Literature Review

Megacryometeors: Distribution on Earth and Current Research

Article· Literature Review (PDF Available)inAMBIO A Journal of the Human Environment 35(6):314-6 · October 2006with 375 Reads
DOI: 10.1579/06-S-187.1 · Source: PubMed
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Joanna Pociask-Karteczka
Institute of Geography and Spatial
Management
Jagellonian University
Department of Hydrology
Gronostajowa 7
Krakow, 30 387, Poland
j.pociask@geo.uj.edu.pl
Synopsis
Megacryometeors: Distribution on Earth and
Current Research
The research of the historical record of ice
falls brings together many cases that are
apparently similar (1–3). Practically all
clear-sky ice falls were not appropriately
researched because they were routinely
assigned, without verification, to aircraft
icing processes, to wastewater from air-
craft lavatories (blue ice), or to the leakage
of aircraft water tanks. However, it is
important to take into account, first, that
documented historical references about
these events go back to the first half of
the 19th century, so many cases existed
before the invention of airplanes (1–3),
and second, that a detailed search of
scientific databases (Web of Science,
GeoRef) regardin g well-known a ircraft
icing processes revealed a lack of prece-
dents that corroborate that ice formation
on any part of aircraft can reach dimen-
sions of approximately 1 m and weights of
up to several hundred kilograms.
A simplistic analysis of these events as
a whole can thus lead to misunderstanding
because different types of ice falls corre-
spond to different formation scenarios in
the earth’s atmosphere, either natural in
the strict sense of the term, or with a direct
or indirect relation with human activities.
Consequently, it is necessary to define
differentiation criteria (e.g., texture, and
structural and compos itional character-
istics of the ice) to distinguish among them
(4). The term megacryometeor was recently
coined (5) for the following reasons: to try
to avoid terminological confusion; to
emphasize the existence of such atmo-
spheric phenomenon; and to describe large
atmospheric ice conglomerations that, de-
spite sharing many textural, hydrochem-
ical, and isotopic features detected in large
hailstones, are formed under unusual
atmospheric conditions that clearly differ
from those of the cumulonimbus cloud
scenario (i.e., clear-sky conditions).
The fall of large ice blocks (weighing
approximately 1 kg to hundreds of kilo-
grams) from the clear sky is one of the
most interesting (and controversial) issues
in the atmospheric sciences (6). Meaden
(6) used the term ice meteors to name them
and proposed that their origin had to be
different from that of large hailstones.
Later, Corliss (1) used the term hydro-
meteors. Corliss also differentiated them
from classic hailstones and suggested that
they have an atmospheric ori gin, but
different possible formation scenarios.
Probably the largest and most impressive
events of megacryometeors have occurred
in China, Brazil, and Spain. In 1995, an ice
block approximately 1 m in size fell in
Zhejiang, China (7). Some farmers wit-
nessed three large chunks of ice crash with
a whoosh into the paddies of Yaodou
village; the largest chunk left a crater
about a meter in diameter and a half-
meter deep. In Campinas and Itapira,
Brazil, two huge megacryometeors of 50
and 200 kg fell in 1997; the atmospheric
isotopic signature of both specimens was
unequivocally confirmed (8). Finally, on
21 July 2004, a huge mass of ice weighing
approximately 400 kg fell very close to
a 15-year-old girl in Toledo, Spain.
Our study of the rate of these earthfall
events indicates that mainly after 1950, the
number of hits has spectacularly increased,
and the hits occur over practically the
whole planet (3). From 2001 to April 2006,
a total of 46 ice-fall events have been
witnessed and recorded. Verifiable effects
include the megacryometeors’ crashing
through roofs or producing small impact
craters (i.e., La Milana, Soria, Spain, Fig.
1; Surrey, UK; Oakland, California, USA).
These impacts have occurred in Argentina,
Australia, Canada, Colombia, India, Ja-
pan, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal,
Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, the
United Kingdom, and the United States.
Fourteen ice falls occurred in 2005 alone;
these occurred in Japan, The Netherlands,
314 Ambio Vol. 35, No. 6, September 2006Ó Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2006
http://www.ambio.kva.se
the United States, the United Kingdom,
and Spain, and the megacryometeors
weighed from about 0.5 kg to more than
5 kg. As of this writing, four documented
ice falls have been recorded in 2006, one in
India and three in the United States. The
two last known events, in April 2006 in
California (USA), produced a verifiable
small impact crater on the ground in
Oakland and a hole in the roof of
a gymnasium in Loma Linda (9, 10).
After 6 years of compilation and study
of ice events occurring all around the
world (10), together with the analysis of
megacryometeors that fell in Spain during
this period (Fig. 1), we are starting to
understand the textural features and the
hydrochemical and isotopic composition
of megacryometeors (11–14) (Fig. 2).
Megacryometeors’ textures include zones
of massive ice, large isolated cavities,
millimeter-sized oriented air bubbles, and
ice layering. Capillary electrophoresis
analysis, combined with traditional wet-
chemical (molecular ultraviolet and visi-
ble-light spectr ophotometry) o f m ajor
anions (Cl
,SO
4
2
, HPO
4
2
, and HCO
3
)
were performed by means of hydrostatic
injection (10 cm for 30 s) at 258C. Trace
anions (F
,Br
, and NO
3
) were quanti-
fied effectively by electrokinetic injection
(4 kV, 10 s) at 158C. The results showed
variability in their chemical composition
patterns (13). Very recent isotopic studies
of megacryometeors confirm that d
18
O
and dD(V
SMOW
) of all samples fall into
the meteoric water line (15), unequivocally
demonstrating that megacryometeors
match well with typical tropospheric val-
ues (14). Also, theoretical calcul ations
allow us to estimate that the vertica l
trajectory in effective growth of the mega-
cryometeors was lower than 3.2 km (14).
At present, no model is able to satis-
factorily explain what factors cause the ice
nucleation and gro wth, or how these
unusually large ice blocks can be actually
formed and maintained in the atmosphere.
Several hypotheses have been proposed
that posit both terrestrial (1, 11–14, 16)
and cosmic (17) causes. The possibility
that the source of the megacryometeor
water could be nonterrestrial was consid-
ered, but this possibility was ruled out
because as previously defined, the water
signature (25% . dD
SMOW
. 127%)
(14) is clearly tropospheric (very different
from that reported for comets [þ1028% .
dD
SMOW
. þ862%]) (18). Crew (16)
proposed that gr eat masses o f w ater
(droplets and vapor) could be transported
up into the atmosphere by tornados, then
froze n and con verted into ice chunks.
Crew suggests the existence of some
atmospheric mechanisms that would avoid
Figure 1. (A) Megacryometeor in situ that fell in La Milana, Soria (27 January 2002). It landed near a startled farmer who was riding his tractor.
More than 16 kg of ice was recovered by the environmental police of the Guardia Civil (SEPRONA). The size of the small impact crater generated
by the megacryometeor was 50 cm. (B) One of the fragments of the megacryometeor that fell in San Feliz de Lena (Asturias) (26 January 2000)
(artificial illumination to highlight its textural features).
Figure 2. Selected significant information about megacryometeors. The hydrochemical and
isotopic data corresponds to megacryometeors that fell in Spain. [(2-4, 11-14) and http://tierra.
redirs.es/megacryometeors]. Abbreviations in the figures are C, number of countries; LOD,
below the limit of detection; n, number of ice fall events; nd, not detected; (rc), average
concentration error; SMOW, Standard Mean Ocean Water.
Ambio Vol. 35, No. 6, September 2006 315Ó Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2006
http://www.ambio.kva.se
dispersion and favor accretion of the ice.
Our studies indicate that during the period
in which the fall of megacryometeors to
earth occurred in Spain (mainly during 10–
17 January, 2000), anomalous atmospheric
conditions were observed to exist (12, 14):
a sudden drop in the tropopause occurred
over Spain. Atmospheric soundings from
NOAA were collected for the days before
and during the occurrence of the mega-
cryometeors in Spain. The analysis of the
soundings indicates that the tropopause
sank from a level of 250 hPa (10 500
m) on the days before the events, to a lower
level of 400 hPa (7000 m) on the days
of the events. This process was not
observed simultaneously at all st ations
and seems to have propagated from north-
west to east and then to the south. Along
with the amount of sinking, the other
significant factor is the accompanying
increase in humidity (near saturation but
with no condensation) observed in all
cases (except over Madrid). Ozone anom-
alies and wind shear were also found to
coexist with the tropopause undulations.
Only by use of an interd isciplinary
approach, including atmospheric and cli-
matic studies, simulation, and analysis of
physicochemical experiments of the icewill it
be possible to learn the real cause of
megacryometeors and the reasons for the
apparent multiplication of these objects (19).
References and Notes
1. Corliss, W.R. 1983. Ice falls or hydrometeors. In:
Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation and
Related Weather Phenomena: A Catalog of Geophys-
ical Anomalies. The Sourcebook Project, P.O. Box 107,
Glen Arm, MD 21057, pp. 40–44.
2. Martı
´
nez-F
´
as,J.andLo
´
pez-Vera, F. 2000. Los
bloques de hielo que caen del cielo. Antecedentes y
fenomenologı
´
a reciente. Rev. Educa. Cienc. Tierra. 8,
130–135 135 (In Spanish).
3. Martı
´
nez-Frı
´
as, J. and Lo
´
pez-Vera, F. 2002. Grandes
bloques o meteoros de hielo. In: Riesgos Naturales.
Ayala-Carcedo, F.J. and Olcina Santos, J. (eds.). Ariel
Ciencia, Editorial Ariel, S.A., 1141–1148 (In Spanish).
4. Martinez-Frias, J. and Rodriguez-Losada, J.A. 2006.
Atmospheric mega cryometeor events ver sus small
meteorite impacts: scientific and human perspective of
a potential natural hazard. In: Comet and Asteroid
Impacts and Human Society. Brobovsky, P. and Rick-
man, H.(eds.). ICSU. Springer. (in press).
5. Martinez-Frias, J. and Travis, D. 2002. Megacryome-
teors: fall of atmospheric ice blocks from ancient to
modern times. In: Environmental Catastrophes and
Recovery in the Holocene. Leroy, S. and Stewart,
I.S.(eds.). Brunel University, West London, UK, pp.
54–55.
6. Meaden, G.T. 1977. The giant ice meteor mystery. J.
Meteor. 2, 137–141.
7. Parker, J. 1995. (http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/sl9/news56.
html)
8. Pinto, H. 1997. Segundo relato
´
rio sobre o fenoˆ meno da
queda de blocos de gelo provenientes da atmosfera nas
regi
~
oes de Campinas e de Itapira, NO Estado de Sa
˜
o
Paulo, Brasil. (http://www.cpa.unicamp.br/gelo/gelo.
html)
9. (http://tierra.rediris.es/megacryometeors)
10. (http://www.phschool.com/science/planetdiary/
archive06/atmo1042206.html)
11. Martı
´
nez-Frı
´
as, J., Lo
´
pez-Vera, F., Garcı
´
a, N., Delga-
do, A., Garcı
´
a, R. and Montero, P. 2000. Hailstones
fall from clear Spanish skies. Geotimes (June): 6–7.
12. Martı
´
nez-Frı
´
as, J., Milla
´
n, M., Garcı
´
a, N., Lo
´
pez-Vera,
F., Delgado, A., Garcı
´
a, R., Rodrı
´
guez-Losada, J.A.,
Reyes, E., Martı
´
n Rubı
´
, J.A. and Go
´
mez-Coedo, A.
2001. Compositional heterogeneity of hailstones: atmo-
spheric conditions and possible environmental implica-
tions. Ambio 30, 450–453.
13. Santoyo, E., Garcı
´
a, R., Martı
´
nez-Frı
´
as, J., Lo
´
pez-
Vera, F. and Verma, S.P. 2002. Capillary electropho-
retic analysis of i norganic a nions i n atmospheric
hailstone samples. J. Chromatogr. A 956, 279–286.
14. Martinez-Frias, J., Delgado, A., Millan, M., Reyes, E.,
Rull, F., Travis, D., Garcı
´
a, R., Lo
´
pez-Vera, F. et al.
2005. Oxygen and hydrogen isotopic signatures of large
atmospheric ice conglomerations. J. Atm. Chem. 52,
185–202.
15. Craig, H. 1961. Isotopic variations in meteoric waters.
Science 133, 1702–1703.
16. Crew, E.W. 1977. Fall of a large ice lump after a violent
stroke of lighting. J. Meteor. 2, 142–148.
17. Foot, R. and Mitra, S. 2002. Ordinary atom-mirror
atom bound states: a new window on the mirror world.
Phys. Rev. D66, 061301.
18. Deloule, E., Robert, F. and Doukhan, J.C. 1998.
Interstellar hydroxyl in meteoritic chondrules: implica-
tions for the origin of water in the inner solar system.
Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 62, 3367–3378.
19. Thanks to Dr. David Hochberg for his revision and
correction of the English-language version of this
article. Also thanks to CSIC and ICSU for their
scientific support.
Jesus Martinez-Frias
Planetary Geol ogy Laboratory
Centro de Astrobiologia, Ctra de Ajalvir,
km. 4 28850 Torrejo
´
n de Ardoz
Madrid, Spain
martinezfrias@mncn.csic.es
Antonio Delgado Huertas
Department of Earth Sciences and
Environmental Chemistry Estacio
´
n
Experimental del Zaidı
´
n, CSIC Prof.
Albareda 1 18008 Granada, Spain
antodel@eez.csic.es
Synopsis
Ecological Economic Problems and
Development Patterns of the Arid Inland River
Basin in Northwest China
The inland river basin in arid Northwest
China is located in the center of the
Eurasian continent, north of 358N and
west of 1068E, occupying 24.5% of China’s
total land area, and it is one of the most
arid regions in the world (1). This region is
characterized by alternating bands of
relatively humid mountains and arid
plains. Several rivers, such as the Heihe,
Shiyang, Shule, and Tarim, originate in
the mountainous regions, nourish some
oases in the middle reaches, and then flow
to small lakes or disappear in the large
arid desert plain. Alternating mountains,
oases, and desert is the typical landscape
pattern of the arid inland river basin in
Northwest China. Although there is more
agricultural and animal husbandry pro-
duction in these basins than in other arid
regions, water resources are the most
significant factor restricting basin devel-
opment (2). We take the Heihe River Basin
as a case to focus on some critical
ecological economic problems that have
recently arisen in the inland river basin,
and we put forward a sustainable de-
velopment pattern according to the system
coupling theory.
STUDY AREA
The Heihe River Basin (HRB), the second
largest inland river basin in arid North-
west China, is located between 97842
0
1028E and 37841
0
–42842
0
N. It covers an
area of approximately 128 000 km
2
. The
main stream of the Heihe River, with
a length of 821 km, originates in the Qilian
Mountians, flows through the Hexi corri-
dor of Gansu Province, and enters into
two terminal lakes (Fig. 1). The landscape
and human production are very different
in the HRB. In the upper reaches of the
HRB, mountain grassland and forest are
the main landscape types, and desert
grassland is the main landscape type in
its lower reaches. Therefore, the main
human production in the upper and lower
reaches of HRB is animal husbandry
based on mountain grassland and desert
grassland. In the middle reaches of the
HRB, irrigation oases are distributed
along the sides of the Heihe River.This is
a productive zone of economic develop-
ment for the entire HRB: 88.47% of the
HRB population lives here, and 87.93% of
the HRB GDP are focused here. It is one
of the major grain-producing regions in
China. However, because water utilization
intensity is continuously increasing in the
oases located in the middle reaches of the
HRB, the discharge of water into the lower
reaches of the river has decreased signifi-
316 Ambio Vol. 35, No. 6, September 2006Ó Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2006
http://www.ambio.kva.se
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    Europe has recently experienced a number of extensive droughts and floods, raising concerns about the potential impacts of climate change. This paper explores the relationships between inter-annual climatic variability—as measured by the North Atlantic Oscillation Index (NAOI)— and spatial patterns of anomalous hydrological behaviour across Europe, using the FRIEND European Water Archive. Results show that in winters with a high NAOI, characterized by stronger than average westerly circulation patterns, river flows are above average in northern Europe, but below average in the south. Correlations are strong and statistically significant, and the spatial patterns are consistent with those in temperature and precipitation.
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    Winter snowfall over much of the south and central Appalachian region shows a significant inverse association with a winter index of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) teleconnection pattern. The snowiest winters coincide with the negative phase of this pattern. Composites of 700 mb heights over North America and the adjacent Atlantic Ocean suggests that the negative (positive) phase of the NAO results in anomalously cool (warm) conditions across the region and this is confirmed by examination of divisional temperatures, which are significantly correlated (positive) with the NAO index. The meridional circulation regime associated with the negative phase of the NAO also results in a southward displacement of the storm tracks across the eastern United States, as indicated by composites of divisional precipitation and an index of cyclonic activity. Snowfall shows significant correlation (negative) with sea surface temperatures (SSTs) along the northeast coast of the United States in both the contemporaneous winter and preceding fall seasons, suggesting that Atlantic SSTs may have some utility in winter forecasting. [Key words: snowfall, Appalachians, winter climate, North Atlantic Oscillation, Atlantic sea surface temperatures.]
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    The paper investigates the influence of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Arctic Oscillation (AO) on thermal conditions in Poland from the 16th to the 20th centuries. For this purpose the monthly (1659-1990) and seasonal (1500-1658) NAO and AO indices reconstructed by Luterbacher et al. (1999, 2002) have been used. On the other hand, the winter climate in Poland was characterised: i) for the instrumental period using the recently homogenised air temperature series from Warsaw (Lorenc 2000), and ii) for the pre-instrumental period using reconstructions of: a) mean January-April air temperature based on dendrochronological data (Przybylak et al. 2001), b) winter (Dec-Feb) air temperature indices based on historical sources. The investigations of relationships between the circulation indices and winter climate in Poland were carried out separately for the entire series of data and for chosen years with the extreme high/low NAO and AO indices. It was shown that changes in atmospheric circulation explain about 25% of winter air temperature variation in Warsaw in the period from 1779 AD to 1990 AD. When the reconstructed series of mean January-April air temperature is used, the explained variances are significantly lower and oscillate from 2.2% for the first 300 years to 8.4% for the last 190 years. The worst results were obtained for the 17th century (ca 1%) and the best for the 20th century (ca 14%). The weaker relationships in the first 300 years are probably connected with the lower reliability of the NAO and AO reconstructions prior to 1800 AD. For the extreme NAO and AO years the relationships with the winter climate in Poland are significantly greater. The influence of atmospheric circulation was about twice as strong during negative phases of the NAO and AO indices in comparison with their positive phases. It has been also found that two-thirds of the cases with the annual extreme high/low tree-ring widths of the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) were noted during the occurrence of the positive/negative NAO and AO indices, respectively. In conclusion, the existence of not high, but statistically significant relationships between the NAO and AO indices on the one hand, and, on the other hand, winter climate in Poland in the pre-instrumental period, confirms that Luterbacher et al.'s reconstructions of the NAO and AO indices are quite good. Here we should add that the data from Poland have not been used for reconstructions of atmospheric circulation. However, our results also show that an improvement of these reconstructions for the first 300 years (and especially for the 17th century) is needed.